New American Songbook

"In 20 years of listening to hip hop, its music and stories have never left me unchallenged or unchanged. Throughout its history—from Kool Herc to KRS and beyond—hip hop has told the story of America through the styles of noir, memoir, jazz and rhythm and blues, comic books and blockbuster action movies. It is everything we say we are, and those things we maintain we are not. This is the new American Songbook." - KMUW commentator, Zack Gingrich-Gaylord  

New American Songbook can be heard on alternate Mondays, or through iTunes.

There’s a moment in ‘Spa 700’ where you find your bearings, just barely: the tempo solidifies, a melody emerges and stanzas form. Then you realize that only four minutes have passed since the beginning of this fourteen-minute release from Philly musicians DJ Haram and Moor Mother.


There are cloth mesh barriers lining the steel girders underneath the railroad bridge in downtown Wichita. The bridge, nicknamed the ‘pigeon bridge’, was a home to a roost of the birds--a few weeks before the mesh went up, live traps were placed, pocketed between beams, and the birds’ numbers dwindled.

"The Hip Hop Way" originally aired December 16, 2016.  

There’s a scene in the 1997 documentary "Rhyme and Reason" where the emcee Taz demonstrates how to hand someone a hat. It isn’t enough to merely give someone a hat, he explains, you have to hand it to them in a hip hop way. As he performs the difference, you can see he knows this is over the top, but you can also see there’s a part of this that’s true: There is a hip hop way to hand someone a hat, and it’s a little funkier than any other way.


Scientific concepts have long existed in hip hop music, sometimes expressed in the mathematics of Five Percenter ideology, or in more procedural ways, like referring to the recording studio as a laboratory, suggesting the crafting of music is akin to the creation of a science experiment. And while these themes are widespread, my guess is that if you ask a hip hop fan which emcee they most associate with science, 9 out of 10 of them will answer with the GZA of the Wu-Tang clan.

@chollette /

I’ve been really impressed with the hip hop coming out of Chicago lately--emcees like Mick Jenkins, Noname and of course Chance the Rapper have developed a wonderful and distinct sound and emotional range that feels rare in contemporary hip hop. 

American hip hop is as multilingual as America, with emcees mixing English together with any number of other languages. And pick a country in the world and you’ll find an emcee who’s making quality hip hop about that part of the world, and often in their own language.

In 1992, the rap-metal group Body Count released one of the more infamous songs that you’ve probably never heard. The song, "Cop Killer," generated a ton of controversy--even then-President Bush chimed in--and it was eventually removed from the album, but not necessarily for the reason you might think. When asked about it, Ice-T explained that he removed the song because “it got out of hand...let’s get back to real issues, not a record, but the cops that are out there killing people.”

Mindy Tucker

Hip hop has always been fascinated with itself--one of the music’s unique and endearing qualities is its constant self-reflection and self-assessment. This is great for true fans--there’s nothing an enthusiast loves more than to constantly talk about their enthusiasm--but it’s often difficult for casual or first-time listeners to get into it. 

In 1989, the first year that rap music was included as a category in the Grammy Awards, half of the winning duo boycotted the show altogether. The winning act, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, felt slighted by the exclusion of the category from the television broadcast. The emcee, Will Smith, along with several other nominees, declined to participate. The rap group Salt N Pepa put it succinctly, saying “if they don’t want us, we don’t want them.”

A term that is gaining more popularity over the past few years is the Anthropocene.